Earlier this month I wrote about hockey coming back when the lockout ended and if the Wings would actually be any good. Today I was going to write about the Wings looking at the team a bit deeper, but before I could start a friend of mine just recently wrote a massive response to that story.
So instead of just re-writing nearly everything he says, because I actually respect his hockey knowledge and for the most part I agree with everything he said, I decided just to post his comment here and will just analyze anything I think is different in my eyes at the bottom.
Without further explanation here is Bryan Beaver’s take on the Wings this upcoming season:
So I know I’m a bit late to the party here, but I thought I’d give my 2 cents on the Wings heading into the season opener. I’ve read a lot of analysis and speculation on the Wings odds and it is 75% cliché and end of the world commentary about the loss of Lidstrom and the end of our Dynasty. I agree with some and disagree with others, but here’s my take on the Wings:
- The offense is very good and very deep. Our Top-6 is pretty tight (hoping Samuelson delivers here) and the Pavel-Hank-Brunner line looks just dominant. I firmly believe that Detroit’s bottom-6 are what have kept us a powerhouse for so long and given us the longevity to win Stanley Cups. This is all predicated on a competent and confident front office and ours is still both. I’m incredibly happy to see Eaves back in the lineup and hoping Helm stays healthy. I think those two guys play a very under-appreciated (outside of Detroit) role in the success of the team.
- I think we still have very strong leadership both on the ice and behind the bench. Zetterberg has been vetted for this role for a long time and I think that Kronwall is a capable leader for the defense corps. Babcock and his glorious hair will continue to do what they do. Hoping our new special teams coach will be able to work the same magic he did in Edmonton.
- Finally, we have a legitimate backup goaltender. Even with a shortened schedule, I’d like to see Jimmy resting much more often.
- Oh the defense…I realize it’s the cliché of the hockey blog community to bash on the Wings’ blue line, and after a few months of excuse making and well-wishing, I’m inclined to agree with them. The loss of Lidstrom is obviously huge, but that was a calculable loss. The management knew that was coming from years out and should have had a transition strategy in place (that did not involve getting outbid on Suter). The loss of Stuart cuts a bit deeper for me. I’ve been a huge fan of #23 and I think he filled a very important and unmet need of the wings. It’s easy to look at the individual players left on our defense and try to find positive aspects of their game (ok… maybe not Kindl…) but I don’t think this is the right way to assess the quality of the defense. If I look at the Wings’ back end roster side-by-side with just about any other team in the West, I have a lot of trouble saying I’d rather have the Wings’. And as tough as that is to swallow, I think it’s the most realistic evaluation available.
- Again on special teams, there are some big question marks. On paper our PK should improve quite dramatically with Eaves back in the mix and once Helm comes off IR. The PP is more of my concern. I think this is where Lidstrom’s presence will be most felt. He was the quarterback and facilitated the puck moving design we utilized. However, our new coach is focused on much less puck movement and a lot more net crashing, which will probably better play to our current roster. Also worth noting – Samuelson, Smith, Larry Murphy, Mike Illich, or my grandmother would be better choices at the point on the PP than Hudler, so nowhere to go but up there!
Key Factors (Individuals and factors most critical to our success):
- Brendan Smith: We need this kid to be not just reliable on defense, but incredible. He has the pedigree and opportunity to shine and I think it’s going to be a make or break factor for the Wings.
- Damien Brunner: I’m getting more and more and more excited for this guy. We have loved watching the Euro-twins make ridiculous plays for years, but they have never had the right goal scorer to really turn their talent into production. If he can deliver he will not only improve the Wings’ record, but also shut up all of the neigh-sayers who think Ken Holland’s luck has run out.
- Speaking off… Ken Holland: I won’t lie in that I was disappointed with our off-season activity. I wanted Suter bad and don’t feel like we came anywhere near picking up the talent we could have. BUT, in Kenny I trust and he has a sizable amount of cap space to make some magic happen. He needs to find the right defenseman and write him a large check. We have excess talent up front that we can afford to let go of.
- Jimmy Howard: I have no doubt of Jimmy’s abilities, but I fear we’re putting an unfair and unrealistic amount of pressure on him. Without a strong Defense in front of him, we need him to come up huge this season. If his numbers suffer this season, it should be considered a failure of the organization and not Jimmy Howard.
- The Central Division: Unfortunately, a lot of success is relative, particularly with the intra-conferance format. There are only so many points to go around and we are in a stacked division. I think that the departure of Suter has a much larger impact on Nashville than the analysts are expecting and they will not be as competitive as last year. St. Louis and Chicago have not changed significantly this year and that sucks. The Blues success last year was heavily rooted in their incredible goal tending. Goal tending can be a very streaky quality and it’s tough to say if the Blues’ duo can repeat their dominance. Chicago is on the opposite side of that fence with a very complete roster that lacks Cup-worthy goaltending. I always have and continue to give the Hawks their due respect. Also, I think there’s a team in Ohio that we play a few times.
OK, now with the Positives I agree that the top line will be very strong this year. But one worry I always have with this team is when Dats and Zetterberg are playing together the second line seems to drop off. The second line is going to be the key this season if this team is going to do well because they need secondary scoring.
The signing of Jonas Gustavsson was fairly under the radar throughout the league, but with this accelerated season he could end up playing close to half the games this season. His numbers aren’t stellar, but playing in Toronto will do that to a guy.
With the negatives Bryan hit the nail on the head, defense and special teams. Losing Lidstrom and Stuart was huge and not enough was done to replace them as the top pairing is now Kronwall and Ericsson. The continued development of Kindl and Smith will be the biggest question mark this season, if they play well this team could contend for the Central. If not, this season could get ugly.
Bryan mentioned not having Hudler on the point as a positive, but Samuelsson didn’t impress me during his last stint here playing the point either so we shall see. Maybe having Brunner on the top PP unit running the point isn’t out of the picture.
The biggest problem for this team could be travel. Being an Eastern team in the Western Conference leads to long trips across the country and not much time in between to rest up. Depth guys will be key for this team as Grand Rapids should have lots of call-ups this season.
The key players are also right on point, I would probably add Gustavsson in with Jimmy Howard as goaltending will be key. The one player I would add is Fillpula. Coming off a career year the Wings need him to continue to create and score on the second line. He will have talent around him, he just needs to score some big time goals this season.
Even with all of the players lost and not so much added I think the offense of this team could carry the Wings to another playoff appearance. Chicago and St. Louis will make this a three-headed monster at the top of the Central and Nashville can never be counted out with Pekka Rinne between the pipes. I see the Central ending up like this:
- St. Louis
With the season being basically a sprint every point will matter and once into the playoffs, just like any NHL season, anybody can take home the Cup.
Special thanks to Bryan Beaver for his insights and letting me use his work in this story. If I ever have a hockey question or something to debate this is the man to talk to so I expect comments on every hockey story here on out Mr. Beaver.